Book Review – The Woolgrowers Companion by Joy Rhoades

Debut  Australian author, Joy Rhoades tells the story of a young woman who finds the strength to prevail through difficult economic and emotional times. Don’t we all want to read a story like that, especially when it so beautifully written?  (And the physical book is also gorgeous.)

the woolgrowers companion


It’s 1945 in New South Wales, Australia. The farming district is crippled by drought and a shortage of strong young men to work the land. Kate lives with her father on the farm Amiens, named by her father in memory of his WW1 experiences. Kate’s married-in-wartime-haste husband is away in the army.

Italian prisoners of war are sent to help on the farms, and Kate and her father are assigned Luca and Vittorio. Her father’s mental decline, due to untreated WW1 PTSD, accelerates, and the drought tightens it’s grip.

Amiens would be critically short of manpower without the POW’s, but Kate is torn. She finds herself irresistibly drawn to Luca, the one she trusts the least.  When she learns of the dire financial situation of the farm, she has to assert herself to make a plan to save it, but the men, particularly her father, are not used to being managed by a woman.

The only help on which Kate can rely is that of her Aboriginal helper, the Italian prisoners of war and the Woolgrowers Companion. (A fictional book about how to run a sheep farm.)

Kate must also decide how much she is prepared to risk on behalf of her Aboriginal helper, Daisy.  The cruel mistreatment and injustices against the first Australians as described in The Woolgrowers Companion only allude to the full picture, I suspect, but are profoundly heartbreaking. They prompt some shameful reflection on our own history, as well as that of many other countries.

The Woolgrowers Companion really touched my heart.  Rhoades was inspired by her childhood experiences on her grandmother’s farm, and many of the expressions and the food reminded me of my South African gran.  (A lot of Anzac “bikkies” are eaten as the tale unfolds. We would call their close South African relatives Crunchies, and these were standard fare at my gran’s tea table. ) There is a section where an Aboriginal woman gives birth and the raw emotion moved me to tears. (Which is something. I didn’t even cry in The Notebook. Or Titanic.)

The water saving measures Kate employs also resonated with me, as we grind along with our buckets and pans to avoid Day Zero.

Join the author HERE on a little preview trailer of the book that she says is “essentially … a story of the power of hope.”

The back of the book is full of recipes for the types of food Daisy and Kate make, and the men eat throughout the book. After you have read about that many scones and “bikkies” you will be reaching for the flour and the eggs. Anzac Biscuits, 3 kinds of scones, sponge cake and more.  I am going to make the Boiled Fruit Cake at my earliest convenience. I will be sure to update you from my tea table.

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